Bangladesh regulator orders telcos to stop providing free access to social media

Bangladeshi men use their cellphones in Dhaka on December 28, 2018. - Bangladesh's authorities have severely restricted internet services across the country in an effort to fight "propaganda" ahead of the December 30 general election, an official said. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Bangladeshi men use their cellphones in Dhaka on December 28, 2018. - Bangladesh's authorities have severely restricted internet services across the country in an effort to fight "propaganda" ahead of the December 30 general election, an official said. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Manish Singh

Bangladesh's regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users.

Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero-rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals.

In Bangladesh, such zero-rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad Mohammad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service (Extra Crunch membership required), in an interview with TechCrunch.

Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka's order. Other zero rating deals remain in effect, a person familiar with the matter said.

It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program.

In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational.

Several nations in recent years have balked at zero-rating arrangements -- though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality.

Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

More From

  • Mux raises $37M Series C as its API-based video streaming service scales

    This morning, Mux, a startup that provides API-based video streaming tooling and analytics, announced that it has closed a $37 million Series C round of capital. Prior to this funding round, Mux most recently raised a roughly $20 million round in mid-2019. The Mux round lands amidst a number of trends that we're tracking here at TechCrunch, namely API-based startups, which are hot as a group at the moment, and startups that are serving an accelerating digital transformation.

  • Amazon relaunches Twitch Prime as Prime Gaming

    Amazon Prime is highlighting its offerings for gamers today with the launch of a service called Prime Gaming. This is a new version of Twitch Prime, a service that Amazon launched four years ago tied to the popular game streaming service that it acquired in 2014. In today's announcement, the company said Prime Gaming includes "more new content for more games than ever before, plus more free games, and a monthly Twitch channel subscription."

  • ByteDance valuation under huge pressure as TikTok sale nears

    As it reached an estimated valuation of $100 billion this year, TikTok's parent company ByteDance solidified its status as the most valuable startup in private markets. Its success outside China has also become a source of envy and inspiration among its local peers. Now, the company's price tag is under tremendous pressure as it's set to shed its priced asset TikTok, several investors told TechCrunch.

  • Beware bankers talking TikTok

    The next few weeks is going to be a critical time for ByteDance-owned TikTok. The company is weeks away from a ban signed by President Trump, and while the company is expected to sue the U.S. federal government this week to block it, clearly the company’s future has at least storm clouds on the horizon. The leading contender so far in media reporting has been Microsoft, with multiple press reports indicating that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has talked with President Trump about an outline of how a deal could be consummated.